Sir Michael Wilshaw: We need 'battle-axes' for teachers to improve schools

Lesson to learn: Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw should know that services staffed by volunteers can be centres of excellence

We need “battle-axes” for teachers to improve state schools, Ofsted’s chief inspector has said, as he warned that student teachers were put off by “sloppy, scrappy” pupils.

Sir Michael Wilshaw argued that bright young teachers were also being put off the profession by poor leadership in schools.

In many secondary schools, inspectors still see scruffy pupils, sloppy worksheets instead of textbooks and low level disruption, the chief inspector said, arguing that if England wants to do as well as other nations, every secondary school needs to have a good atmosphere of scholarship.

Speaking during a panel debate at a Sutton Trust conference in London, Sir Michael also took aim at private schools, saying that they should lose their tax breaks if they fail to sponsor an academy.

The Ofsted boss said that if secondary schools are to improve, then it is important that good teachers stay in the classroom and see teaching as a career.

He said: “I’ve spoken to Teach First graduates on many occasions and one of the depressing things I hear from them is that they leave university, do their training, go into schools full of vim and vigour and enthusiasm wanting to do well by children in disadvantaged communities and are put off by poor culture in schools, by poor behaviour and by what they see – because they are bright young things, and very perceptive people – as just poor leadership.

“Unless we get leadership right then we will still continue to have problems.

He continued: “Our problems in the main reside in the secondary sector,where recruitment and retention is most difficult. Secondary schools are not very good, in my view. If we’re going to match the best jurisdictions in the OECD and elsewhere then we’ve got to improve our secondary school performance, and we won’t get social mobility unless that happens.”

Wilshaw: It is important that good teachers stay in the classroom and see teaching as a career

Sir Michael went on to say that inspectors can often tell how good a school is early on in a visit.

“They sense it as soon as they go in. What do they see? First of all they don’t see any staff at the school gates to see the children in. They see the uniform all over the place, those woolly jumpers that you see, not a smart uniform although there’s a uniform policy, they see a lack of scholarship and deep learning in the school, heads down.

“They see sloppy, scrappy worksheets rather than textbooks, they see noisy corridors and low level disruption. That’s what they see. And if we are really aiming for our children to do as well as South Korea and Hong Kong and China, we need to have, in every secondary school in the country, a really good atmosphere and scholarship in that school.”

He went on to say: “We need head teachers in our secondary schools that are going to be really transformative leaders, and we have not got enough of them. We need battlers, we need bruisers, we need battle-axes who are going to fight the good fight and are absolutely determined to get high standards. We have got too many appeasers in our secondary schools who are prepared to put up with mediocrity.”

Independent schools are needed to help improve social mobility, Sir Michael said.

“I get quite angry when I hear independent school heads say ‘well equality is getting worse, we’ve got to do something’ and wringing their hands. Well, we know that, get stuck in, sponsor an academy, How many actually sponsor an academy? Some do, but not many.

“I think they should lose their tax subsidies and the reliefs that they get from the Charity Commission unless they sponsor an academy, and show that they really mean what they say.”

Julie Robinson, general secretary of Independent Schools Council, said: “It is a shame that Ofsted’s chief inspector continues to attack independent schools.

“More than nine in ten of ISC schools are in mutually beneficial partnerships with state schools. This is very much direct involvement, sharing expertise, best practice and facilities in imaginative and creative ways, to the benefit of children in all the schools involved.”

Chris King, Chair of HMC and headmaster of Leicester Grammar School said: “Sir Michael Wilshaw’s assessment of independent schools does not bear scrutiny. When politics is taken away, the simple facts show a very different picture.”

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